VIENNA (Jan. 27)
The cloud hanging over the World Jewish Congress Governing Board meeting here — which formed and gathered strength after the news broke Friday about the reception given by the Austrian Defense Minister for released Nazi war criminal Walter Reder — broke last night as speakers at the opening session of the three-day conclave subjected the action, the Austrian government and Chancellor Fred Sinowatz to a shower of emotion-laden and often angry criticism.
Despite the anger felt and expressed by several speakers at the session and many delegates about the Austrian government’s handling of the Reder affair, the WJC decided this morning to remain in Vienna and continue the meeting rather than pull out immediately as some delegates had demanded on Saturday afternoon. WJC president Edgar Bronfman said in a statement this morning that the Governing Board still awaits word from the Austrian government that “we’re sorry.”
Early this afternoon, Sinowatz, in a message to Bronfman, said, “I am personally profoundly sorry” about the Reder incident. Bronfman, addressing himself to Sinowatz in his speech last night, said that the delegates to the meeting were “devastated, to put it mildly, shocked, furious, angered” upon learning that Reder has received “what was tantamount to a hero’s welcome” when met by Defense Minister Friedhelm Frisch enschlager upon arriving in Austria from Italy.
BRONFMAN EXCORIATES AUSTRIAN GOVERNMENT
He told the audience of over 200 delegates and observers from 68 Jewish communities, as well as members of the diplomatic corp and other dignitaries packed into a hall in the historic Hofburg (Winter) Palace of the Austrian emperor:
“Reder represents all that was unspeakably evil about Nazism and the Austrian participation therein. “The government, Bronfman said, has “undertaken to teach the young about the horrors” of the Nazi period. But what has happened with Reder could not be a “worse example.” He asked Sinowatz, “How could Nazism be dead anywhere if such a disgusting display can take place?”
Bronfman inserted these remarks at the beginning of his speech after a heated discussion took place at the late Saturday afternoon session of the WJC Executive. At that meeting, Raya Jaglom of Israel, co-treasurer of the Governing Board, got up and demanded that WJC pull out immediately from Vienna in protest against the Reder affair.
A fevered debate ensued, with the Israeli and West European delegations generally in favor of considering action along these lines, and the Americans calling for moderation.
The compromise was that Bronfman address himself forcefully to the issue in his speech and that a decision would be made Sunday about the pull-out or other action, after the delegates had evaluated Sino-
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But, un expectedly, Frischenschlager turned up in Graz to welcome Reder and shook his hand. He then flew with Reder, in an Austrian army helicopter, to the Martinek military barracks at Baden where he escorted the former Nazi to the officers club. As the storm raged, Reder was sequestered in a military hospital in Baden Bei Wein, outside Vienna.
AUSTRIAN OFFICIAL JUSTIFIES HIS ACTION
Frischenschlager justified his action, saying he had been responsible for the transportation of Reder and had coordinated it with Foreign Minister Leopold Gratz. Gratz, presently in Switzerland, said he had been informed by Frischenschlager of his intentions but that the Defense Minister claimed he was going to Graz in order to receive Reder quietly without the media or organization attention.
Ironically, the reception of the Nazi war criminal by a senior member of the Austrian government coincided with the three-day meeting in Vienna — January 26-28 — of the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress, the first gathering of world Jewish leaders in Austria since the end of World War II. (See separate story.)
STATEMENTS OF PROTEST
The umbrella organization of Jewish communities in Austria sent a letter of shocked protest to the government, demanding its total dissociation from the minister’s actions and their implications. The Jewish community received the reports of Reder’s reception “with consternation, lack of comprehension and great concern,” the letter said.
It wamed that Frischenschlager’s action is bound to have a disastrous effect on Austrian youth.
The Austrian Community of Former Auschwitz Inmates demanded the Defense Minister’s resignation. Officials of the group said at a press conference that such a man should not head a ministry which deals with young men. They cautioned against equating Frischenschlager with the Austrian officers corps where there are “many honest anti-fascists.”
Sinowatz did not elaborate on his original statement. Neither he nor Vice Chancellor Norbert Steger, leader of the Defense Minister’s party, were available for comment to the press today. Sinowatz had earlier welcomed Italy’s pardon of Reder, saying that “this act of grace from the Italian side should not be interpreted as an attempt to play down the cruel and inhuman crimes committed by the SS.”
Sinowatz had been one of the petitioners for Reder’s early release, as was his immediate predecessor, former Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, and Franz Cardinal Koenig, the Archbishop of Vienna.
DEFENSE MINISTER’S ACTION CRITICIZED
Kreisky, who is Jewish, called Frischenschlager’s action of welcoming Reder “incomprehensible” and said that while he was Chancellor, no minister could have taken such action without prior consultation. He said he was convinced Sinowatz knew nothing of Frischenschlager’s intentions. He was critical, however, of Foreign Minister Gratz.
Kreisky said he had favored Reder’s pardon because he preferred to avoid the possibility of his death behind prison walls which would make the former Nazi a martyr in certain circles. Alois Mock, chairman of the opposition Peoples Party, said he welcomed Reder’s release as a humanitarian act but that was no reason for the Defense Minister to stage a “political show.”
Two other peoples Party spokesmen, Ludwig Steiner and Felix Ermacora, also justified the pardon but condemned the extension of military honors to the returning ex-Nazi as a “grave mistake” which will not enhance Austria’s international reputation.
Erhard Busek, the conservative Deputy Mayor of Vienna, called Frischenschlager’s action “hostile to democracy.” He joined the demand for the defense chief’s resignation.
Helene Partik-Pable, the parliamentary spokesperson for social affairs of Frischenschlager’s party, the Freiheitliche Partei Oestearoichs (FPOE), said she did not know the circumstances but she herself would not have acted like her comrade.
Nevertheless, several prominent FPOE politicians and regional branches of the FPOE supported the Defense Minister. According to Joerg Haider, an FPOE member of the Carinthia provincial government, Frischenschlager did not receive a criminal in Graz but a soldier who had done his duty for his country.
In sharp contrast, Josef Cap, a young Socialist elected to Parliament last year, said Frischenschlager had delivered a “slap in the face for all of those who either lost their lives or suffered hardship under the Nazi regime.”
GIVING THE FPOE A POLITICAL BOOST
Some observers here are maintaining that Frischenschlager did not act on impulse but with cold calculation of the effects his greeting of Reder would have on his position in his own party. The FPOE, a small partner in the Socialist-led coalition, has been lossing ground rapidly in recent months. Its standing in public opinion polls has hit rock bottom.
The party is split between two factions, one liberal and the other consisting of diehard rightwingers and old Nazis. Frischenschlager has been regarded as leader of the FPOE’s liberal faction, but he needs support from the right. His move to welcome Reder was seen as a signal to them.
In fact, Frischenschlager appears to be playing both sides of the political fence. He angered the rightists by presiding over the swearing in of army recruits at the site of the former Mauthausen concentration camp. On the other hand, he was seen by reporters attending a reunion meeting of former SS men in Carinthia last year.
(Continued from P.1, Col. 2) watz’s speech at the opening session for the strength of his apologetic sentiments. Sinowatz was informed of the feelings of the delegates before the session began.
Sinowatz, who spoke after Bronfman, told the delegates, “The fact that this transfer (of Reder to Austria) made for personal contact between the Defense Minister and Reder was a grave political error.” He had, he said, “distanced myself” from this action yesterday, and had asked the Defense Minister for a detailed report about the events. Sinowitz continued: “We should not draw conclusions from this isolated event. Austria is a country where human rights are respected, democracy functions, and people do believe in its viability.” Austria, he continued, had played host to thousands of refugees and was willing to endure the difficulties and sacrifices this entails.
Sinowatz’s remarks about the Reder case came about the half-way point in his speech. He devoted the first part to calling attention to the contributions of the Jews to Austria and especially Vienna — “much of what we have has been molded and linked with the Vienna Jewish community” — and added that the poor, non-famous Jews as well, “should be remembered by us at this hour of remembrance.” As Minister of Education, he said, he had devoted much time and energy to ensuring that school children learned about the fascist times. “We do not wish to snuff out those years as some would like to cross them out of their memories,” he said
“We want to educate our children so there will never again be persecution against men and women. for their race, religion, color….” He also called for “vigilance” against facism, “rearing its ugly head in different forms.”
After Sinowatz sat down, Maurice Jaffe, president of the Union of Israel Synagogues, got up from the audience and stated he was surprised to hear the Reder case described as a “political error.” Wasn’t there, he asked, a “moral obligation to provide the Jewish people an explanation?”
WANTS GOVERNMENT TO TAKE NECESSARY STEPS
Leon Dulzin, chairman of the World Zionist Organization, also addressed himself to Sinowatz in his speech. He said he did not think the Defense Minister’s reception of Reder should merely be termed an “error.”
“This is something which angers us, which expresses something we would like to have forgotten.”
The Jewish people, he continued, “is angry and we ask the government of Austria to take the necessary steps to quiet down this anger.”
Dulzin went on to call upon Sinowatz to “dissociate himself from that unbelievable act and also from the person who performed it, “i.e., Frischenschlager. This was widely interpreted by delegates to mean a call for Sinowatz to demand the Defense Minister’s resignation — a move considered highly unlikely as it would provoke a Cabinet crisis, something the Social Democratic Party is unwilling to do.
At the same time, Dulzin congratulated the people of Austria for the years it hosted thousands of refugees and thus “gave us a helping hand.”
“IT IS AN ETHICAL ERROR”
Eli Wiesel, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, scrapped most of his prepared text and addressed himself to the Reder incident. “What hurts most,” he said, “in the insensitivity. How is it possible to refer to the Defense Minister’s action as a political mistake? It is an ethical error.” The action, he continued, “did not take into consideration that it might hurt us — and it hurts us.”
After the conclusion of the formal speeches — which had also included words of welcome from Dr. lvan Packer, president of the Union of Austrian Jewish communities, and Anton Benya, president of the Austrian Parliament — Dr. Gerhart Riegner, former WJC secretary general and now co-chairman of the Governing Board, called attention to the fact that Sunday is the 40th anniversay of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Dr. Israel Singer, WJC executive director, led the audience in saying Kaddish for the victims of the death camp. Then MP Greville Janner of Great Britain, a WJC vice president, started singing Hatikvah and the audience joined in.
The general feeling among the delegates at the conclusion of the session was that Sinowatz’s speech could in no way be described as the kind of strong apology the European and Israeli delegates wanted and which would head off their original wish to pull the WJC out of Vienna.
However, at the same time, most delegates felt that the anger over the Reder scandal has been expressed and there was nothing to gain and even much to lose by the WJC pulling out. Such a move, many delegates, especially the Americans, felt could jeopardize relations between Israel and Austria.
WJC vice president Arthur Hertzberg told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency he felt that Sinowatz could not provoke a Cabinet crisis as the government would fall. “This government is the only one that may bring in Soviet and lranian Jews, ” he said. “Jewish statesmanship demands that they (the Austrians) be excoriated, which is what happened and that should be the end of it.”
SAYS ALL ETHIOPIAN JEWS MUST BE RESCUED
Somewhat lost in the overheated atmosphere at last night’s opening session of the Governing Board was the rest of Bronfman’s speech. He pledged that the “entire Jewish world will not rest until all Ethiopian Jews are rescued.” He continued:
“The emergency airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel represented all that is the best in the Jewish moral tradition. It is the manifest refutation of that base slander against the Jewish people that Zionism is racism. We salute the State of Israel and former Prime Minister Menachem Begin for undertaking this noble endeavor.”
SITUATION OF SOVIET JEWRY
Turning to the question of Soviet Jewry, Bronfman told the meeting that the WJC has emphasized that its concern for this community “is not motivated by any anti-Soviet disposition.” The WJC, he stated, rejects “enlistment as Cold Warriors.” Bronfman continued:
“There is no doubt that constructive developments toward easing the plight of Soviet Jewry will help to ease tension between East and West, just as we believe that diminishing tensions between East and West will improve the conditions of Soviet Jews” and benefit the entire world, as well.
Bronfman reported that the possibility of the Soviet Union’s joining with world Jewry in various events commemorating the 40th anniversary of the overthrow of Nazism was raised in his talks with Soviet officials. He expressed the hope that cooperation in these efforts would bring “positive movement” in other areas, as well.
“World Jewry and the Soviet Union share much common emotional ground and mutuality of past interest,” Bronfman told the gathering. “The victory over the Nazis and fascism 40 years ago was a historic moment for both the Jewish people and the Soviet people. One million Jews fought in the Red Army against Nazi barbarism.” In remembering the Holocaust, he continued, “we cannot forget that brave Soviet troops liberated most of the tattered remnants of European Jewry from the death camps.”
Concern over terrorism has occasioned very tight security at the WJC Governing Board meeting. The crack anti-terrorist squad, popularly called the “Cobras,” are omnipresent in and around the Hilton, where all the meetings, with the exception of the opening session, are taking place for the duration of the weekend of meetings.